White People Tacos

Meatloaf, mac and cheese, sloppy Joes–everyone has a favorite comfort food.  Now, I love a bowl of creamy mac and cheese, and there will always be a special place in my heart for my mom’s cheeseburger meatloaf (it has a swirl of cheese, fried onions, and mustard!).  But when I think about my ultimate comfort food–the meal I always turn to for a taste of my childhood–it’s gotta be white people tacos.

You know what I’m talking about!  Completely inauthentic tacos made from the Old El Paso kit.  Sour cream, cheddar cheese, mild salsa (from a jar, obviously), and often, inexplicably, black olives (WTF).  Sprinkle these on top of some ground beef with “taco seasoning,” wrap it all up in a flour tortilla, and you’ve got yourself some white people tacos.  Certainly not gourmet, but so damn good.  One bite, and you’re instantly transported back to taco night in fifth grade.

Lately, I keep seeing these commercials on Food Network; I can hardly express the depths of my love for them.  The kids are ADORABLE, and the premise of these ads is both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious–Mexican people don’t eat this stuff!  Regardless, I get such a kick out of the commercials that I watched them both again online and then made white people tacos for dinner (with a few changes from the way mom used to make them).

First, I made mine vegetarian by using TVP instead of meat.  I love using TVP because you don’t even need to cook it; just rehydrate it with some boiling water.  I mix the taco seasoning into the dry TVP before adding the water because it’s easier to incorporate it that way.  The texture and flavor is actually really similar to what you’d get from using meat, because the prominent flavor is really the taco seasoning.  I also added sliced jalapenos to my tacos.  Everybody knows that white people hate spicy things, so this is really bucking tradition.  Finally, instead of chopped raw onion, I sauteed some beer onions.  Slightly brown some salted onions in olive oil and pour a splash of beer over the top.  Let it reduce completely for caramelized, sweet and savory flavor.

I wrapped mine up instead of folding them taco-style.  What can I say?  I’m lazy and I like eating with one hand!  It frees the other hand up for a PBR (you only need a tiny bit for those beer onions).

Riblet couldn’t resist the smell of the WPTs, and waited patiently next to my chair in hopes that something would fall on the floor.

His efforts were rewarded with a Ribby-sized pinch of TVP:


I’m Back?

I guess I’ll start blogging again!

When I opened my back door this morning, I was smacked in the face with a wall of humidity.  It was like pea soup fog, only no fog, just DAMP.  Nevertheless, Gene, my freshly-straightened hair, and I braved the moisture so we could finally check out Headhouse Square farmer’s market.

This is one bougie-ass farmer’s market, but the selection is great.  Flowers, foraged herbs, raw milk cheeses, and a Garces booth?  I’m in.  My favorite stand was the one with beets for only $1.50 a bunch (compared to everyone else’s $3+), which I scooped up immediately.  I also picked up a candy onion (which I think is just a yellow onion, but I support the whimsical name), and a pint of heirloom tomatoes because they were so cute:

I’d love to come back to Headhouse farmer’s market right when they open to avoid the crowds and people who bring kids in giant strollers to crowded places.  Another bonus?  Bodhi Cafe is like ten feet away, so you can reward yourself with Stumptown coffee after you’ve battled the stroller army.

I Got Choked at Jim’s Steaks: Meals I Didn’t Cook in Philadelphia

In my excitement to leave my hometown of Newark, Delaware behind as I moved to Philadelphia, Pizza Partying has kind of fallen by the wayside.  I won’t sing the refrain of the lazy blogger, apologizing for the hiatus and vowing to post regularly from now on.  I have maybe six readers, and I’m sure you all found a way to carry on without me, somehow.

Nevertheless, I’ve missed writing, so I’m using the feeblest of excuses to start again.  Here are the meals that kept me from fainting as I moved to Philly during a heat wave:

Onion Bagel with Cream Cheese and an Iced Coffee, Black (Dunkin’ Donuts)

I don’t typically eat bagels in the morning, opting instead for something more utilitarian like plain oatmeal.  (What can I say?  I like to begin each day by lying to myself, pretending to be a healthy eater.)  But on the sweltering Sunday morning of my move, I was sweaty and hung over, and carb-loading seemed like a great idea.  Although the bagel was nothing to write home about, the carbs and fat did a great job of soaking up all the leftover beer in my system.  The iced coffee, in addition to being a quick hit of caffeine, cooled me off as I sipped it and when I pressed the cup to my red, blotchy face.  I’d recommend this breakfast to anyone who goes out drinking all night before a big move on the hottest day of the year.

Organic Tortilla Longboard Chips, Stale (Trader Joe’s)

Since it had been burned away by alcohol, my bagel metabolized more rapidly than usual.  Ravenous again only a couple hours later, I ate the only food left in my apartment that didn’t require cooking: an open (unclipped) bag of Longboard Chips.  No one else was taking a food break, so I tasted the chips under the guise of testing them for staleness/packworthiness.  “Not too stale!” I lied, shoveling the chewy chips into my mouth.  These are my favorite tortilla chips, and even when they’re bad, they’re good.

Philly Cheesesteak Pizza (Domino’s)

All day during our move, Gene and I had been looking forward to dinner because of our close proximity to amazing takeout places.  It only made sense, then, to order an AUTHENTIC PHILLY CHEESESTEAK PIZZA from a little local pizzeria called Domino’s.  This mom and pop shop has been lovingly handcrafting pizzas since 1960.  After spending the day hauling boxes and furniture beneath the blazing sun, Gene and I managed to put away the entire pizza between the two of us.

An Actual Philly Cheesesteak (Jim’s Steaks)

On Memorial Day, Gene and I soaked up the 100-degree rays as we moved the rest of our crap to the new apartment.  Cooking was not in the cards, so we walked to South Street for cheesesteaks.  I marched up to the counter at Jim’s and was promptly clotheslined by Gene since I had accidentally bypassed the proper ordering station.  Thankfully my vocal chords were not damaged during the incident and I was able to order a steak with fried onions and American cheese (I’m patriotic).  Gene opted for fried onions, mushrooms, and whiz.  As we walked home, I ranted about how American is the “ONLY!” cheese that belongs on a cheesesteak, and when I took my first delicious, greasy bite, I glowed with the smugness of being right.  Then I tasted Gene’s whiz steak (such appealing phrasing!) and totally changed my mind.  Give me fake cheese goop from a can, or give me death!

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House

Everyone has their favorite local restaurants, but sometimes a good meal requires that you get the hell out of Dodge.  Today my friend Katie and I did just that, heading to Philly in search of Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House, the best pizza joint in town.

Nan Zhou’s  atmosphere leaves much to be desired—it’s dingy and lit with fluorescent lights.  But honestly?  Your face will be buried in a bowl the whole time you’re there, so why should they waste their money on decorations?  Since Katie and I read the Yelp reviews, we knew we had to split the beef tendon appetizer.   Thirty seconds after we ordered, our server presented us with a plate piled high with cold, razor-thin tendon atop a bed of julienned, pickled vegetables.

Now, I had never eaten the tendon of any animal before today, and I didn’t know what to expect.  My initial reaction was that this stuff looked like something that would, texturally speaking, offend my delicate American sensibilities.  I mean, the word gelatinous came to mind—it was translucent!  But I hadn’t come all this way just to turn back, so I scooped some up as best I could with my mediocre chopstick skills and shoved it in my mouth.    Nothin’ gelatinous here.  The texture of the tendon was actually firm, reminding me of razored beef jerky.  Flavored with chili, this stuff had a definite kick, but the spiciness was rounded out with sesame oil.  Definitely a full-bodied taste, but not overwhelming.

For my main course, I chose the oxtail soup with hand pulled noodles and a fried egg on top.  (For an extra 50 cents, how can you say no to a fried egg?)

In what had to be less than four minutes, I was presented with a giant, steaming bowl  of noodle soup.  When I say steaming, I mean this stuff was molten.  It was really hard to eat because my glasses wouldn’t stop fogging up.  Luckily I’m a tough broad and I forged on anyway.  Although the bowl looked pretty brothy, it was loaded with the fresh, hand-drawn noodles, which were worth burning my tongue on to try immediately.  They were firm yet tender, the way I like my pasta and authority figures.  And they just tasted…fresh.  There’s no other word I can use to describe them.  The broth was subtle (read: kind of bland), but they keep condiments on the table specifically for this reason, so I didn’t take any points off.  I added some fish sauce, chili paste, vinegar, and a heaping squirt or ten of sriracha, and it was perfect.  I needed the spiciness, and the vinegar and fish sauce added a richness and a depth that the broth initially lacked.  The fried egg was perfect—the yolk was still the tiniest bit runny—definitely fifty cents well spent.  The oxtail was tender, but came with bone and gristle still attached.  It made me really wish I had a fork and knife, because like I said, my chopstick skills are sub-par at best.  I won’t fault Nan Zhou for this either.

I can’t wait to go back to this place!  Not only was the food amazing (and cheap), the service was lightning fast and incredibly friendly.

To round out our savory meal, Katie brought along some butterbeer cupcakes.  (Inspired by Harry Potter, obviously.  And if that wasn’t obvious to you, why haven’t you read Harry Potter yet?)  I am not exaggerating when I say that these were, hands down, the best cupcakes I have ever put in my mouth.

The cake itself was a moist butter cake, but the standout part of these cupcakes was the icing.  I need to preface this by saying that I’m typically not a fan of icing.  When I say I’m not a fan, I mean that I scrape it off with a napkin before eating the rest of the cupcake plain.  If I wanted that stuff, I’d dip a stick of butter into some sugar and cut out the extra work.  But this icing was different.  Far from the standard heavy buttercream, this was light and delicately creamy.  When I think of icing, I think of some one-dimensional flavor.  It either tastes like straight up BUTTER, or it tastes like straight up SUGAR.  This was different.  It was complex.  The butterscotch created a sweetness that blended with the richness of the butter itself.  And the ganache.  My god, the ganache.  I didn’t want this cupcake to end.  I ate carefully so that I’d get a mouthful of that ganache with every bite.  Luckily, they were very messy, so I had the added pleasure of licking my fingers and eating the crumbs out of my lap when I was done.  Hey—I never said I’m not disgusting.

On the way home, we avoided slipping into food comas by singing Katy Perry and discussing those cupcakes in excruciating detail.  We have excellent taste in food and music.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Bacon Cookies

When it comes to cooking, I’m not known for my restraint.

Certainly I appreciate subtlety, but I never hesitate to be bold, even brazen, when it comes to flavor.  That’s why, when I wanted to recreate my original bacon chocolate chip cookie, I knew I had to kick things up a notch.

The prototype was invented on a whim.  I had a new boyfriend and I wanted to impress him with my devil-may-care attitude in the kitchen.  I had already boasted about my chocolate chip cookies; the addition of bacon was pure cockiness.  Never before had I incorporated meat into a baked good, but my (faux) leather leggings and stiletto boots made me feel like a total badass, and I tossed some bacon into the dough with an arrogant flourish.  Somehow, it worked.  I brought a batch to the bar the same night and ten out of ten drunkards agreed: the cookies were awesome, dude.

Now, your gut reaction may have been, “Isn’t a chocolate chip cookie with bacon enough?”  My answer is, simply, no.  Today, I’ve forsaken the Guns ‘N Roses video extra look in favor of comfy jeans and plaid slippers, but my sense of culinary daring hasn’t waned.  I’m older now, with a more refined palate.  I expect some sophistication from my meat cookies.  First, I amped up the flavor of the dough with the addition of brown butter.  This added a complexity, a nuttiness, that the original cookies lacked.  Instead of a flat sweetness, these cookies have a melting depth.  Second, I intensified the bacon by turning it into pig candy.  This added a new dimension entirely.  Coated in caramelized brown sugar, the bacon became sweet, smoky, salty, and light.  Yes, I just called candied bacon light.  I would go so far as to call it ethereal; it just disappears when it hits your tongue.

Now, let’s get crackin’.  First, preheat your oven to 375.  Then cut about ten pieces of bacon in half widthwise and coat generously with brown sugar.  There’s no need to measure the sugar, just make sure you use a lot (some will fall off while it’s baking).

Once the slices are evenly sugared, lay each piece on a rack which has been placed in a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for about 15 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven, dot each slice of bacon with some agave or maple syrup, and brush to coat.  Bake another 2 to 5 minutes (depending on thickness), then flip and coat with agave again.  Bake 2 to 5 more minutes, or until cooked thoroughly and dark around the edges.

Once the pig candy has cooled, give it a rough chop and get ready to make that cookie dough!

For the dough, I used this recipe from Eat, Live, Run.  It really is perfect.  You can follow the recipe exactly as written, so I won’t bother with step-by-step instructions.  I will, however, include a couple of tips.  First, the butter-sugar mixture will change color and texture as you go through the mixing and resting stages.  It starts out thick, a dark caramel color:

By the final mix, it will be much lighter, both in color and texture.  It should wind up soft, fluffy, and a light tan:

Second, make sure you really do space your cookies at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.  These things spread like crazy!

Now all that remains is to wait for your bacon cookies to cool!  You can do it.  You must have patience.  And then, you take your reward.  You take your reward.

You’re welcome.

Pimiento Mac and Cheese

Despite the fact that spring has practically sprung and we’re all leaning towards lighter meals, today Gene and I couldn’t stop talking about mac and cheese.  It seemed serendipitous when we arrived at the grocery store and saw the cover of this month’s Bon Appetit:

I grabbed the magazine and immediately started collecting ingredients so that we could adapt this recipe.

I skipped the fresh pepper and garlic in favor of the cheaper and more readily available (read: already in my fridge) jarred garlic and pimiento.  Then I enlisted my cheese grater, Gene, to shave some extra sharp cheddar, Parmesan, and mozzarella.

While Gene grated the cheese (I’ve already drawn blood twice this week by grating my own hand), I got to work on the sauce.  I have to admit, I was really skeptical about a mac and cheese that had:

a.) no bechamel

b.) no milk

I threw the pimiento, minced garlic, cheddar, two tablespoons of butter and a quarter cup of parm into the food processor with about half a cup of hot water (since I didn’t boil fresh red bell pepper like the original recipe called for).  Next time, I’ll add milk instead of water.  You can never have too much fat.  I also threw in some salt, “soul food seasoning” (basically a seasoned salt blend), lots of freshly cracked black pepper, nutmeg, and a healthy squirt of Dijon mustard.  Blend all this together until everything is a nice neon orange.

Then take some breadcrumbs and toast them in a dry pan.  Don’t do what I did and forget you’re toasting breadcrumbs–they toast really quickly, and you’ll have to throw them out and start over.  Once the breadcrumbs are nice and brown (about five minutes, as pictured below), throw in a tablespoon of butter and remove from heat, stirring to melt and combine.

Once your breadcrumbs and sauce are prepped, boil the pasta.  I hate when a noodle tears under the weight of the cheesy sauce, so I use a sturdy pasta like cavatappi.  You can use whatever you like, but only boil it until it’s al dente.  Even just before al dente.  It’s gonna wind up cooking more in the oven, so do not overcook it!

While the pasta is cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and grease an 8-cup (at least) casserole dish.  All I had was a 13 x 9 pan, so I used that.  When the pasta is just cooked, drain it, then put it back in the pot and toss with the sauce and remaining cheeses.  Dump it into the casserole dish and top with the breadcrumbs.  Bake for 25 minutes, let rest for ten minutes, and then dig in!

The end result was less creamy than your typical mac and cheese (which I attribute to the lack of bechamel and milk) and more of a fancy pasta dish.  Don’t get me wrong; this tasted great!  The pasta had the perfect “bite,” the pimiento gave the sauce a depth and complexity that mac and cheese often lacks, and the toasted breadcrumbs were deliciously nutty and buttery.  I also liked this dish texturally; the cooking method created strata: a crispy, crunchy surface; a subtly savory center; and a creamy, almost silky bottom layer.

Next time, I’d up the creaminess by adding more milk and cheese throughout.  However, I love the idea of adding extra depth by incorporating peppers into the sauce.  With a little tweaking, this could actually be the ultimate mac and cheese.

Pancake for Dinner

Yes, pancake–singular–for dinner.

After the metric ton of Indian food I had for lunch yesterday, I was craving something sweet.  Since Gene begs me for pancakes on a daily basis, I decided that it was the perfect time to try making a Dutch baby.  I had never had one before, but the creepy/cute name and the fact that it’s a GIANT OVEN PANCAKE COVERED IN POWDERED SUGAR was incredibly tempting.

The dutch baby was delicious!  It was lightly sweet and eggy; crisp yet tender.  Less a pancake than a pancake-French toast hybrid, really.  This would be the perfect breakfast to serve guests/friends crashing at your house after a night of drinking–it’s much easier to make than traditional pancakes, but it’s really impressive in person (as I mentioned, it’s a GIANT OVEN PANCAKE COVERED IN POWDERED SUGAR).  I squeezed some fresh lemon juice over mine, which gave the pancake a refreshing, melt-in-your-mouth quality.  Kind of like eating lemon bars for breakfast (dinner) without feeling disgusting.

Indian Lunch

Recently I agreed to teach my friend, a professor I’ll call Dr. D (he is private/paranoid), how to cook.  Today was our first session.  Although I provided him with a few recipes I thought sounded promising, they were too far outside of Dr. D’s comfort zone.  He wanted Indian food, so that’s what we made.  I was expecting to find a stack of cookbooks in his kitchen, but instead was greeted with a manila folder full of recipes scrawled on looseleaf, and some that looked as though they had been typed on a typewriter.  Most of them were his mother’s recipes as transcribed by Dr. D.  Unfortunately, during the transcription process, all quantities and preparation methods were omitted, leaving “recipes” which consisted only of hyphens connecting ingredients, a linear list which required a lot of guesswork.  Thankfully, we made a lot of good guesses.

I made spinach sauteed with onions, ginger, garlic, and green chilies.  I sprinkled in a crushed seed blend (mustard, fennel, and cumin, all of which I bashed into submission with a hammer) while the onions were cooking.  Then I browned some raw cashews in ghee, tossed them with garam masala, and stirred them into the spinach.  I had never tasted anything like this before!  The spinach was flavorful on its own, but the cashews sort of caramelized in the ghee–the flavor was incredible.  Also pictured is a simple moong dal with green chilies, tomato, and onion, topped with some fresh cilantro and served over basmati rice.  Our improvised lunch turned out to be delicious!

As a parting gift, I also received some Indian snack food, fried moong dal:

These are good on their own, but I want to use them in a recipe.  They’re light, crispy, and salty; I’m imagining them as some sort of topping.


Tonight I made Molly Wizenberg’s ratatouille recipe from A Homemade Life.  I’d give it a B.  I had to add more seasonings (extra salt, plus oregano) and some grated Parmesan.  Paired with a baguette, not a bad dinner at all, but I wouldn’t recommend following the recipe to the letter.

For dessert, I celebrated Easter early with a chocolate-covered Peep.  My second one in as many days.

Sardine Rillettes

When I was a kid, my Granny used to eat sardine sandwiches.  I, a young lady with a timid palate, was terrified and disgusted.  Who eats whole fish that come in a can?  Isn’t that just, like, cat food?  The answers are “me” and “yes,” respectively.  My tastes have (thankfully) changed, and I’ve embraced the concept of fish in a can, upgrading Granny’s sardine sandwiches to something slightly more sophisticated: sardine rillettes.  The name is French, so it’s really classy.

I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for about six months, and now that I’ve finally gotten around to making it, I regret not doing it way sooner.  They’re almost absurdly easy, they taste amazing, and as I mentioned above, the name is French, so people will be really impressed when you serve these at a dinner party or support group meeting.

First, gather up your ingredients: a can of sardines in mustard or hot sauce, a lemon, some parsley (I forgot to photograph this), a small shallot, salt and pepper (the original recipe called for kosher salt, but my Maine sea salt has a large flake, so I didn’t have to make the effort of reaching the top of the fridge for my giant container of kosher salt), and some fancy European butter.  I also strayed away from the original by adding a dash of Louisiana hot sauce.

The cast of characters

First, mince the shallot and parsley and zest the lemon.  Then crack open the can of sardines.  You have to de-spine the sardines, the most labor intensive (but not even difficult) part of the whole recipe.  I am not an expert at this by any means, but my method worked pretty well–I didn’t get any spine in my teeth while I was eating this stuff.  Gently (they’re delicate!) remove the sardine from the can.  Holding the sardine as though you are rolling a joint, squeeze gingerly until the fish sort of splits in half.  The spine will just kind of pop up.  The spines are also delicate, so just make sure you have the whole thing out of the fish before you throw the flesh into a small bowl.  My technique for ensuring my sardines were bone-free was to squish it between my fingers to see if I felt anything sharp.  So what?  You’re going to mash it all up with a fork in a minute anyway.

A disgusting picture of sardine spines

Once all the bones are out and the sardines are in the bowl, dump in all the other ingredients.  I didn’t measure anything; I just sprinkled in the seasonings and hot sauce until it looked good, then squeezed lemon all over it. Mash everything up really well with a fork until it looks like cat food but smells a lot better.

An attractive bowl of ingredients
Le cat food!

Once the sardine mixture is evenly mashed, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, slice up a crusty baguette.  When the flavors have had time to meld, pull it out and slather all over the baguette slices.  Arrange artfully on a plate as if you are only going to eat three, then polish off the rest of the bowl all by yourself.  I recommend adding a dash more hot sauce to each piece.